In the late 1990s, a relatively small group of men and women, mainly in Hollywood, had the radical idea of reinventing the motion picture business, a business that had been working successfully for more than one hundred years. Twenty years ago this month, Digital Cinema Report began reporting on that effort and chronicled one of the most amazing transitions in history. The changes did not happen easily or quickly and there were many people opposed to the very idea. But there’s no need here to rehash every battle; this is not a history. Rather, this is what five motion picture industry leaders and I think were the top twenty most significant developments in making that change a reality. For weeks we asked readers to tell us what they thought belonged on the list, and from that list we chose the final twenty. In addition to me, the judges, in alphabetical order were Tom Bert, director of cinema technology, Barco; Brock Bagby, executive vice president, chief content and development officer, B&B Theatres; Cedric Lejeune, vice president of technology, EclairColor; Loren Nielsen, vice president, content and strategy, Xperi Corporation; and Leon Silverman, advisor, 2030 Vision, strategy and industry relations, MovieLabs. Here then is Digital Cinema Report’s Twenty-Twenty.
The Big Picture
Shenzhen Timewaying and Arts Alliance Media have launched the new DCI-certified 20-meter 4K HeyLED cinema screen, becoming the world’s largest digital LED cinema screen on the market. Presenting a giant leap in cinematic LED displays, the HeyLED 20-meter cinema screen combines pure color, true black, and a high contrast ratio with patented high pixel fill rate technology to enable a visual experience never seen before in exhibition.
This has been a momentous year for PVR Cinemas. In March, the company announced that it was merging when INOX Cinemas. When that deal is finally approved, which is expected in the coming months, the combined entity will become the largest film exhibition company in India operating 1,546 screens across 341 properties in 109 cities. In May PVR entered into an agreement with Oma Cinema of France to introduce the concept of cinema pods in the Indian market. Through its vertical architecture, Oma provides the audience with an intimate cinematic experience with tiered balconies, or pods, enabling viewers to enjoy a sociable cinema experience while enjoying a perfect view of the screen. Later that month, PVR introduced 270-degree on-screen experiential cinema advertising. The car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki was the first advertiser to use the platform to launch its new 2022 Maruti Suzuki Brezza. In July the company announced it was working with Cinionic to convert all its screens to laser projection. And last month it worked with Amazon to present a truly unique cinema ad. The commercial begins with a voice-over giving a command to Alexa to dim the lights. To the audience’s surprise, not only do the lights in the film dim, but the theatre lights dim as well. I recently spoke via email with PVR Cinemas CEO Gautam Dutta and Cinionic CEO Wim Buyens to speak about innovation and its role in cinema’s future. Here is our conversation.
Kathryn Jacob is CEO of Pearl & Dean, the London-based cinema advertising company. To offer just a partial list of her many accomplishments, in 2016 Jacob and Sue Unerman co-authored the book The Glass Wall: Success Strategies for Women at Work and Businesses that Mean Business published by Profile. In 2020 the two women and a man named Mark Edwards co-authored the book Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work. The many boards that Jacob serves on include serving as chair of Home Manchester, an iconic arts venue. Since she joined Pearl & Dean, the company has created the world’s first 3D interactive advertisement for 02, brought pop up cinema to all parts of the UK, and worked with Virgin Atlantic and Ambassador Theatre Group on new ways to reach consumers. On August 1, Jacob began an eight-year term as president of SAWA Global Cinema Advertising Association. Despite the many challenges of the past two years, she remains confident that the industry will bounce back soon because, in her words, “The cinema medium is unique in the media landscape.” I recently spoke with Jacob, via email, about her new role at SAWA and a wide range of other topics related to cinema advertising.
Launched in 2014 by the Korean producer of premium film formats and cinema technologies, CJ4DPlex, ScreenX is the world's first digital multi-projection theatre technology to enable a 270-degree panoramic movie watching experience. ScreenX uses a proprietary system to expand specially selected sequences of a film onto the left and right-side walls of an auditorium, surrounding the audience with exclusive imagery that makes them feel as if they’re inside the movie, creating a truly immersive experience. In the beginning, exhibitors, especially in the United States, were slow to embrace the new technology. In part, that was because so many were pre-occupied with the challenge of simply converting from film to digital projection and, in part, because CJ4DPlex was a new brand to them. But growing success in Korea and hard work by a lot of people paid off. In 2018, the ScreenX technology proved its worth at the worldwide box-office, with the successful panoramic release of Marvel Studios' Black Panther.
Cinema chains PVR and Inox said they have received the approval of the Securities and Exchange Board of India for their merger, clearing an important step in the regulatory process. The two companies announced in March that they were planning a merger to create India’s largest multiplex chain with a network of more than 1,500 screens.
When the MSG Sphere opens in Las Vegas sometime next year, it promises to get even more attention than it has already, which is saying a lot. To date, most of the media coverage has focused on the construction of the massive complex, a story well worth being told. But, while some people have gone so far as to label it the future of entertainment, it’s difficult to understand why, given that to date the people running the sphere have offered few details about what kinds of shows and events it plans to host. And most of the reporting about MSG Sphere has attributed the idea behind it to James Dolan, who is invariably described as the project’s billionaire brainchild. Few, if any of the reports that I’ve seen, have added anything more about the man, which seems like an oversight and, possibly, a serious oversight.
By all accounts, CinemaCon 2022, was a huge success. Attendance at the show, which was held in late March at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, was higher than even in pre-pandemic years. The overall mood of people afterward was of a renewed sense of confidence in the motion picture business as a whole and, especially, of the future of movie theatres as the best place to fully enjoy a feature film. I recently spoke with Wim Buyens, CEO of Cinionic, the joint venture between Barco, CGS, and ALPD, to get his feedback on the show. Not surprisingly, he too left CinemaCon feeling upbeat.
The Oscar-winning visual effects studio Digital Domain has announced the creation of Zoey, which it says is the world’s most advanced computer-generated human-like figure. Powered by machine learning and created using an advanced version of the technology and process that helped bring Thanos to the big screen, the photorealistic Zoey can engage in conversations with multiple participants at once, remember people, access the internet to answer questions and more, paving the way for the next step in the evolution of artificial intelligence. My question isn’t just what does Zoey mean for the cinema business; my question is what does Zoey mean for society?
On Tuesday at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, the opening ceremonies of CinemaCon 2022 got underway as they have in past years, with speeches by Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association and John Fithian president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners. Both men praised the efforts that helped the cinema business begin to emerge from the ravages of the pandemic. Both were realistic about the motion picture industry’s present, and optimistic about its future. Rivkin’s main topic was the ongoing battle against content theft and, while he offered a long list of recent success stories, he acknowledged that the fight continues. Fithian’s main topic was simultaneous release which he insisted works for no one. But the overall theme of the morning was the understanding that this is a watershed moment in the entertainment business and over the next few years we will see the cinema experience redefined yet again.